How to Use “Social Proof” to Increase Sales

When selling your product or service, you will find that many of your customers will worry that they might be making a mistake by buying it. Their fears usually have something to do with:

* buying something that doesn’t work

* buying something that is not very good

* paying too much for it

A great way to reduce this fear in your customer’s mind is to use “social proof,” a subject discussed at length in Robert Cialdini’s excellent book “Influence:  The Psychology of Persuasion”.

Social proof is based on the concept that we often make buying decisions based on what other people similar to us have done. That way, we reduce the risk of making a wrong decision. Social proof is often the way we choose movies, restaurants, holiday destinations, cars, and many other products and services.

So if you are a medical professional, you will be strongly influenced by what other medical professionals think about a product or service that is of interest to you. If you are a teacher, you will be very interested in what other teachers have to say about a product or service you are interested in. And so on.

How, then, do you use social proof to sell your product? With testimonials.

The question many of your potential customers will have is this: “Who else has purchased this product or service . . . and what happened when they did? If you can show these people proof that people like them have purchased your product or service — and have enjoyed some wonderful benefits as a result of that purchase — you will greatly increase your chances of making a sale.

In one of my first sales jobs, I was selling a promotional advertising concept to retailers in small towns around New Zealand. To be successful, I needed to get at least 30 retailers in each area to support this promotion.

When I first began selling the concept, I found that it would take me three to four weeks of talking to retailers to get 30 sales in any one town.

But one day, by accident, I began showing new retail prospects in one town the details of what other retailers similar to them had done with this promotion in another town. I made 30 sales in three weeks. After that, whenever I was talking to a potential client, I began using the names of every retailer in town who had decided to get involved in my promotion.

I would say something like this: “Here are some of the other retailers in your town who have already joined this promotion. I would then show them the order forms I had from all these other retailers. I found that when a retailer in one town saw the names of a dozen or more other retailers in the same town who had decided to support my promotion, it was very easy to make a sale to him.

After six months of selling this concept, I was able to get my 30 sales in only one week. And in one extremely successful case, I was able to get 30 sales in one town in only three days.

Social proof can be so powerful it is almost scary!

What other people say about you, your company, and your products and services is infinitely more credible than anything you can say on your own behalf. When you make a statement, it is a claim. But when your satisfied customer makes the same statement about you, it is a fact.

What makes a good testimonial? Think of it as a pair of verbal snapshots.

The first is the “before” picture — the problem: “I was fat, lonely, frightened, poor, unhappy, skeptical etc.”

The second is the “after” picture — the positive result, the pleasant surprise, the solution: “Now, thanks to XYZ product/service, I’m thin, popular, confident, rich, happy, and a believer.”

Before you set out to gather testimonials, make two lists:

1. Every claim, feature, benefit, and fact about what you are marketing that you want to substantiate.

2. Every doubt, fear, or question that might exist in your prospective customer’s mind that you want to answer.

Now, collect testimonials that specifically substantiate your claims and eliminate your customer’s doubts. Here’s the four-step method I use to collect testimonials from happy customers:

STEP ONE: Make up a short list of some of your best clients/customers. These are people who you know love your company, as well as your products or services.

STEP TWO: Send these people a very short questionnaire, along with a short cover letter. The cover letter should say something like: “We are always trying to improve our customer service and would greatly appreciate it if you would take five minutes to complete the enclosed feedback form and send it back to us as soon as possible. We have a great little free bonus of XYZ that we would love to give you if you can complete and return this feedback form within the next 10 days.”

I have found from experience that offering customers a free bonus for returning the feedback form quickly always increases the response. This bonus could be something as simple as a free instant scratch-off lottery ticket that would cost you $1.

STEP THREE: Make the client/customer feedback form simple to answer and easy to return. Enclose a prepaid envelope and format it on one page so it can be easily faxed back. Make it simple to answer by having only a few questions on it. I recommend these five:

1. Please list 3 reasons why you first decided to use our product/service? (e.g., referral, Yellow Pages, newspaper ad, etc.)

2. What 3 things do you like most about our product/service? (e.g., Our friendly and knowledgeable staff answered your queries promptly . . . We came highly recommended by many people. )

3. What are 3 benefits you have enjoyed as a result of using our product/service? (e.g., We solved a specific problem . . . We helped you reach a specific goal.)

4. What are 3 ways we could improve our product/service?

5. May we use your comments as a positive reference? Yes/No

STEP FOUR: When the forms come back, write up the comments you have under this heading: “Here are some comments from our customers/clients on what they think about our product/service. They were taken from our recent customer/client survey in November 2004.”

A good testimonial will look something like this: “I chose ABC service because of 1,2,3. What I like most about their service is 4,5,6. I’ve enjoyed the following benefits 7,8,9. — John Doe, Chicago, IL”

These positive comments can then be used over and over in your marketing. One of the most important things with testimonials is to make sure they mention specific benefits that have been achieved as a result of using your product/service. It’s not good enough to have testimonials that say “It was a great carpet cleaning service” or “I really liked it.”

What you really want is to have a customer say something like, “I chose ABC carpet cleaning service on the recommendation of my best friend. The first time I used it, I was thrilled with how quickly you were able to remove stains that had been on my expensive rug for over 6 months. Both my carpets and my rugs now look like new. I have had friends over for dinner and they thought that I had redecorated because everything looked so good. Your price was very affordable and I will definitely be using you again.”

I have personally used this four-step method to collect testimonials for more than 25 different businesses — and it has worked perfectly for every one of them.